Sometimes viruses go through changes that result in a new version (called a variant) of the disease. In December 2020, the United Kingdom identified a new version of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The new version is being called “SARS-CoV-2 VOC 202012/01. It appears this new form of the virus spreads faster from person to person than other strains of SARS-CoV-2. However, there is nothing to suggest this variant causes more severe illness or greater risk of death.
Changes in viruses are not uncommon and can appear and disappear over time. Scientists and medical professionals will continue to investigate and monitor this new form of SARS-CoV-2. For now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is requiring airline passengers to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of boarding their flight from the United Kingdom to the United States. Passengers must provide written lab results and airlines will be required to confirm the test results before the flight. Passengers who do not provide results will not be allowed to fly.
In November 2020, the CDC officially launched the National SARS-CoV-2 Strain Surveillance (NS3) program to increase the number of viruses undergoing characterization. Since early December, DHEC has been sending at least 10 SARS-CoV-2 virus samples biweekly to CDC for study in an effort to help South Carolina and the CDC to monitor for any meaningful changes to the virus.
At this point, this newest form of the virus does not appear to have an impact on how effective the available vaccines are. The virus would likely need to change multiple times to overcome the immunity provided by vaccines.
There are existing tests that can detect the new version of the virus and more information about it is expected to be learned rapidly. DHEC will continue to work closely with the CDC and federal partners as new information develops.
CDC: Emerging SARS-CoV-2 Variants (December 30, 2020)